Music, War, Nature, and Cultural History in Louisiana

I mentioned in a previous post that we visited a couple more National Park Units while in New Orleans.  We knew about one of them; the New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park, located in The French Quarter, which recognizes and celebrates the uniqueness of the musical style that was born here.  But we didn’t know a second one existed until we got here and found the Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve. This one is actually an amalgamation of six different park properties scattered throughout the Mississippi Delta which all have something to do with the spirit and culture and people of this unique and wonderful area.  We were able to visit three of the six sites that make up this national park unit.  While they all share examples of the rich natural and cultural resources of Louisiana’s Mississippi River Delta region, their offerings vary widely.  

Jean Lafitte Barataria Preserve

Jean Lafitte, for whom this park and preserve is named, was a French-American pirate operating in the Gulf of Mexico during the early 19th century.  He commanded a large group of smugglers and privateers based in Barataria Bay [just south of the city of New Orleans], and was generally known as a scoundrel partaking in illicit ventures.  At his best, he and his band of swashbucklers helped Major General Andrew Jackson and the U.S. forces defeat the British troops in the Battle of New Orleans in 1815, helping put an end to the war of 1812.

Painting of the Battle of New Orleans - the final major battle in the War of 1812

The Chalmette Battlefield is one of the park units.  As mentioned, it was here that Lafitte helped the young country’s forces fight the British in the Battle of New Orleans.  The battle itself took place on January 8, 1815, and lasted less than two hours.  When the fighting concluded, over 2,000 British troops lay dead in the field, were wounded, or taken prisoner; American troops had fewer than 20 casualties.  Jackson’s victory here launched him on the road to the White House, and ultimately he became the 7th President of the United States in 1829.

Great Horned Owl
Nutrias in the bayou

We also visited another Jean Lafitte site – the Barataria Preserve.  What once was Lafitte and his marauding pirates’ swashing grounds is now a peaceful nature preserve.  Here we hiked on a couple of trails which took us on a raised boardwalk through a Bald Cypress and Palmetto forest before depositing us in the bayou where we paralleled the natural sediment levees along these ‘liquid land’ rivers in the delta.  The hike was wonderful, and we saw a couple of obscure animals in addition to the requisite egret feeding in the lowland marshlands.  Fred captured this Great Horned Owl mama up high in her next – very cool!  And then we learned about a new animal – the nutria.  It’s really a river rat; a very prolific river rat.  Nutria were originally brought up from South America for their fur, but their destructive feeding and burrowing behaviors make them invasive pests today.  We also saw evidence of a wild boar that had torn up a big area foraging for food, but unfortunately we didn’t see the big beast in action.

We really enjoyed our little getaway to Barataria Preserve – a nice change of pace from the activity of New Orleans. Below are a few more photos of this unique place that is the Mississippi Delta.